Hello dear friends! It’s a little bit odd to be using the internet after a two week break (I’ll have you know I did just fine without it). I suppose I am slowly working my way back into Western life. The transition begins here and follows me through my many (many) layovers.
We arrived home from Zinder last night to the smiling faces and rejoicing voices of Zeinabou, her family, and the neighborhood kids. I jumped out of the car and into the arms of Fati and Haoua. After 14 hours next to a car seat I was ready to get out and move around and give lots and lots of hugs. Seeing everyone and feeling that ecstatic about coming ‘home’ to them made me realize how much I am going to miss my home here when I leave, which is very soon- three days!
So I have decided to re-tell the Zinder vacation in shifts. I will begin with the day we left.
Sunday the 30th, right? Nope! Saturday evening Marie and I returned home (we had been out at the American recreation center with Tom’s partner missionary Kara VanderKamp from Rockford, MI swimming in the pool and drinking milkshakes) to find that the car had overheated (the radiator was leaking) and Tom had a bad case of conjunctivitis (Pink Eye, for those of you who aren’t pre-med students or Chris Firlik). So the trip was put off until Monday.
This turned out to be lucky for me because Sunday was a big celebration at our church in Niamey in order to raise money for a new building and some other projects. Everyone showed up in their best outfits and hairdo’s (except for me, of course, who had forgotten it was Sunday, and having taken my sweet time to wake up, had to rush out of the house in the closest skirt and headscarf (and shirt, of course) I could find. They had brought in big fluffy armchairs for the speakers, president of the EERN (our denomination) and the visiting ministers from Nigeria. There were also about three rows of couches (no joke!) where the first pews usually are for other important people. Besides our normal two choirs (who were dressed up of course) there were also the choirs from the Baptist and Presbyterian churches complete with drum sets and nice keyboards. There was also a horn section that came from somewhere!
The service was about four hours long (yup) but really cool. I was lucky because the preacher was visiting from Nigeria, so the message was in English. He talked about an example Paul gave of the Macedonian church giving what they had out of their poverty for the church and the gospel, and rejoicing over it. I have never seen a sermon so well applied. Talk about rejoicing! The rest of the service was spent with singing and dancing and different parts of the congregation getting up from their seats and filing forward to put an offering in the bowls up front. Many people went four or five times, and they were always smiling and laughing as they did it. I myself was full of joy to be able to give what I could to the church. The service lasted long because everyone wanted to keep giving and singing about it. I can’t tell you how much I wished that American churches could see the joy with which the believers in the poorest country in the world took in giving their money away. Money that the pastor (and Paul) reminded us is not our money anyway, but God’s. I wanted so badly to bring this tradition back with me, and see the kind of affect it could have on stewardship in the States. Even if we didn’t start dancing and blowing trumpets, maybe if we could make the move to stand up and walk forward to give our offerings instead of (as we do at my church) having a gold plate brought to us and passed silently, maybe we’d learn more about the joy of giving. And maybe that movement, that big step of standing up, would make us realize how important the act of giving is.
So that was church to weeks ago Sunday. Monday morning at 6am we piled in the car and headed off for our long journey to Zinder. We were blessed with no flat tires or other car problems, just lots of pot-holes and bathroom stops for our five kiddos. More interestingly, at one of our bathroom stops I tried to play peekaboo with a small African child and scared him half to death. He was startled and cried profusely after I took my hands off my face. I later asked another missionary if she ever scared children. She said it was rare not to!, that some moms tell their kids that if they are bad they’ll “give them to the white woman.” Well now I understand!
It was actually quite a neat thing to drive from one side of the country to the other—the landscape changes. Niamey is in a sort of valley, and is at a very low altitude, whereas Zinder is much higher up (and a bit cooler I think) and surrounded by large rock formations and boulders in really interesting shapes. As we moved across country the houses and villages changed from round Fulani huts and others that seemed to mimic large clay pots to more square clay houses next to skinny palm trees and fat baobabs. These villages reminded me a bit of traditional pictures I’ve seen of Israel in Jesus’ time- complete with all the sheep and donkeys!
This is all I have to tell you about the trip Part One. More about Zinder (and a surprise: Maradi) in the next episode.
Love from Africa